Rick Pluta | Michigan Radio
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Rick Pluta

Reporter / Producer - Michigan Public Radio Network

Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.

Rick was one of the first Michigan political reporters to write about “pay-to-play” fundraising, and the controversies surrounding recognition of same-sex relationships. He broke the news that Gov. John Engler was planning a huge juvenile justice overhaul that included adult-time-for-adult-crime sentencing, and has continued to report since then on the effects of that policy decision.

He co-hosts the weekly segment “It’s Just Politics” on Michigan Radio with Zoe Clark.

Rick is fascinated by the game of politics, and the grand plans and human foibles that go into policy-making. You will never find him ice-fishing.

Follow him on Twitter at @rickpluta

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign a series of bills adopted by the Legislature as part of a deal on the state’s response to COVID-19.

The bills are the product of bargaining between the GOP-led Legislature and the Democratic governor after the Michigan Supreme Court struck down her continued use of emergency orders.

gretchen whitmer sitting at table
michigan.gov

State and federal authorities have charged a group of 13 suspected terrorists in an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer and recruit militia members to storm the state Capitol.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the FBI announced the charges Thursday. They say the men wanted to overthrow the state government and incite a civil war.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The state Senate returns Thursday after the Michigan Supreme Court declared many of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 executive orders unconstitutional.

First the Senate and then the House will meet on consecutive days to adopt their own plans and send them to Whitmer to sign or veto.

gretchen whitmer at a press conference
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Sunday a court opinion that said she exceeded her authority with a series of COVID-19 emergency orders will not be the final word on the issue.

Whitmer said on CNN the advisory opinion from the state’s highest court puts the health of Michiganders at risk. The Michigan Supreme Court’s opinion said the governor exceeded her authority by issuing and re-issuing orders that require masks, distancing, and restricting public gatherings without getting approval from the Legislature.

someone holding a clipboard while another person signs a petition
Svetlana / Adobe Stock

A petition drive has turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures in an effort to restrict Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s broad emergency powers.

The governor has used that authority to enact policies to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The Unlock Michigan campaign says Whitmer’s abused that power, hurting businesses and unnecessarily restricting everyday activities for Michiganders.

absentee ballot
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The Legislature’s Republican leaders are challenging a court decision that says mailed-in votes that are postmarked by November 2 must be counted. That’s even if they arrive after Election Day.

That decision came last month from a Michigan Court of Claims judge. She said ballots that arrive within two weeks of Election Day must be included in the total. That’s due in part to the surge in absentee voting this year due to COVID-19.

Money
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed a $62.7 billion state budget for the new fiscal year that begins Thursday.

The budget did not reduce funds for schools or for local governments. That’s despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

The COVID-19 state of emergency in Michigan has been extended by Governor Gretchen Whitmer through October 27.

This action is not a surprise since Governor Whitmer already said she intended to renew the emergency declaration. But it’s still controversial since her authority to do so and continue to issue emergency orders is being challenged in court.

absentee ballot
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

There is a swirl of litigation already surrounding the November election and absentee ballots. Two former Republican secretaries of state have added their names to the mix with a lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. Terri Lynn Land and Ruth Johnson want a judge to set a hard deadline of 8 p.m. election night for absentee ballots to arrive with local clerks, or else they cannot be counted.

Their lawsuit disputes a decision by a Michigan Court of Claims judge that ballots must be counted if they are postmarked by the day before the November 3 election and arrive before the results are certified 14 days later.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she will extend the COVID-19 state of emergency. It would otherwise expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

absentee ballot
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The Michigan and national Republican parties are asking a judge to reconsider her decision to allow absentee ballots to be counted if they arrive at clerks’ offices after 8 p.m. on Election Day.

This latest lawsuit comes as absentee voting has already begun in Michigan. Republicans are asking Judge Cynthia Stephens to rule that ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on Election Day – regardless of when they were mailed or postmarked – cannot be counted. That appears unlikely since it would require Stephens to reverse an earlier ruling.

Photo courtesy of Carbon Green BioEnergy

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s cabinet members offered more details Friday on the goal of making Michigan a “carbon neutral” state within 30 years.

The plans include adding electric vehicle charging stations at state parks and recreation areas, and working with utilities to reduce emissions.

absentee ballot
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Absentee voting began Thursday in Michigan.

Absentee ballots were put in the mail to people who requested them. Registered voters can also stop by clerks’ offices to fill out their ballots.

In a web conference with progressive activists, Governor Gretchen Whitmer noted the election in Michigan was very close in 2016.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers tapped into federal COVID-19 relief money and the state’s “rainy day” savings fund to adopt a finalized budget plan Wednesday and send the bills to Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Leading up to the votes, the process was swift and secretive. There were no hearings, and most lawmakers were briefed on the details just a few hours earlier. But it was widely acknowledged the times are unusual.

absentee ballot
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Republican leaders in the Legislature are making their final push to reverse a court ruling that absentee ballots that arrive at clerks’ offices after Election Day must be counted.

The first step is for House and Senate GOP leaders to ask to become direct parties to the case. A motion filed Tuesday asked for standing to challenge a Court of Claims decision.

Rex Roof / Creative Commons

More retailers will resume accepting bottle and can returns starting October 5.

Larger stores with machines in front have been taking returnables, but the rule now applies to all retailers with machines.

Amy Drumm is with the Michigan Retailers Association.

“Not every store will be accepting cans and bottles yet. There are still stores that don’t have reverse vending machines, that hand count those or sort them by hand. And those will be continued to be allowed to put that on hold,” she said.

"Vote here" sign
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office is ready to prosecute any efforts to use intimidation or misinformation to illegally swing the November elections.

Nessell, a Democrat, has compiled a list of laws that are supposed to deter election meddling. She says meddling includes threats that registering to vote could put government benefits at risk, or misleading people on where or how to vote.

absentee ballot
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

This has been a lingering controversy – when is the cutoff for absentee votes to be counted?

Republicans have argued that any ballots that arrive after the polls closed should not be counted. Democrats say anything postmarked before polls close election night should be included.

An absentee ballot dropped in the mail no later than the day before the November 3rd elections must be counted. That decision came down Friday from a state Court of Claims judge.

MICHIGAN.GOV

Governor Gretchen Whitmer asked business owners Thursday to be patient with executive orders and other actions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Whitmer engaged in an online session with the Small Business Association of Michigan.

She said it’s important that businesses be held to the existing standard of taking “reasonable” efforts to provide a safe environment.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she supports the Big 10’s decision to allow an abbreviated football season.

That’s after the conference reversed its earlier decision and agreed to protocols to allow football games.
Whitmer said it’s not her decision, but she’ll keep a close eye on how things play out at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.

absentee ballot
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Senate adopted a bill Tuesday that would allow many local governments to prepare absentee ballots the day before Election Day. They could then be opened and counted starting on Election Day.

That rule would only apply to cities of 25,000 or more residents.

Local clerks say that alone could shave hours off the process of tallying the ballots.

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 2000.
Joshua Schwimmer / Flickr

The state of Michigan owns public parks, roads, buildings, and even some historic artifacts. Among those artifacts are the original architectural drawings of the World Trade Center.

This is a story of how the state of Michigan – its taxpayers – came to own the works.

Thousands of people visit the 9-11 Memorial in New York every day.

Children play by the fountain that surrounds the footprint of what once were the world’s tallest buildings. Some people take the time to read at least some of the names of the people who died here on 9-11.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer leveled harsh words Thursday against President Donald Trump over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

She called Trump “the biggest enemy of the state” over an interview taped by journalist Bob Woodward.

In it, Trump said he downplayed the danger of COVID-19. The governor said, if that is true, the President prolonged the crisis.

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
michigan.gov

Governor Gretchen Whitmer told a business group Wednesday that she can’t predict exactly how long her emergency measures will be required to address the COVID-19 crisis.

That was at roughly the same time those powers were being challenged in the state Supreme Court.

The governor has issued more than 170 COVID-19-related executive orders. The governor has withdrawn and re-issued orders, she says, to meet changing circumstances.

MICHIGAN.GOV

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said Friday that she’s concerned gatherings over the three-day Labor Day holiday weekend could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state.

The governor has relaxed some restrictions to allow more school sports and the re-opening of gyms and pools. At the same time, she extended the state of emergency in Michigan to October 1st.

Rodrigo Sarsfield / Unsplash

Gyms and pools in Michigan can re-open next week, but with new rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That’s under two executive orders signed Thursday by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

She is also allowing organized sports practices and competitions to resume in regions where they’ve been banned.

free weights and exercise machines inside gym
Mark Bertulfo / Unsplash

Governor Gretchen Whitmer said on Wednesday that she will announce a decision “soon” on allowing gyms to re-open and for more school sports to resume.

But Whitmer did not say exactly when she would reveal those plans.
 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state will try to order the company that owns the Edenville and Sanford Dams to fix failures that caused extensive flooding along the Tittawabassee River in May.

That action was announced Tuesday by the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Picture of the Lansing capitol building
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state House committee will hold its first hearing tomorrow on bills to offer more protections to businesses from COVID-19-related legal actions.

Business groups say among the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 is a new risk of lawsuits filed against them by customers, employees, and vendors.

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